Mark Watches ‘Star Trek’: S01E23 – A Taste of Armageddon

In the twenty-third episode of the first season of Star Trek, this might just be one of the most disturbing premises ever. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Seriously, the more I think about this episode, the more I love it. It’s meant to be unsettling, and by gods, it’s so effective. It’s only now, after I just typed the title of this episode up there, that I realize what this story was telling the audience: the people of Eminiar and Vendikar had reduced war to little more than a game so that it could seem clean and manageable. In that sense, this episode had a message that felt strongly anti-war, even though Kirk essentially dismantles the system they had set up that stopped both parties from bombing each other to hell and back.

Still, the very nature of the agreement between those two warring nations is so fucked up that I’m going to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about it. What was this kind of living truly like? We learn that the surface of Eminiar was peaceful, relatively speaking, and that the civilization that lived there was advanced and highly technological. There seemed to be nothing above the surface that was less than idyllic. The backdrops to this episode were gorgeous! It looked like an incredible place to live! But how could you live like this? How could you ever live knowing that at any given time, a computer simulation would determine your death?

Perhaps that’s the most damning detail in “A Taste of Armageddon.” We experience the culture of this city largely through Mea 3, and it’s through her eyes that we are given a glimpse at the level of innate acceptance these people operated under. They understood their place in society, so much so that they never questioned being disintegrated. There’s that shot just after Kirk and Spock escape where we see one of the disintegration chambers working, and the people who wait to step into their death don’t even look sad. The same goes for the people we witness waiting prior to Spock destroying one of the chambers. NO ONE IS UPSET. It’s like they’re just going to a routine meeting or a rendezvous with an old friend. THIS IS SO FUCKING DISTURBING TO ME. There had to be a national level of complacency at work here, which would also explain how these two worlds could be at war for over 500 years. If the ramifications of war are reduced to computed numbers, lists of the dead, and gentle trips to disintegration chambers, why ever initiate any peacekeeping proceedings? Things could be so much worse, and it was the threat of that that kept these people so agreeable for centuries.

The clear issue here is that IT COULD BE SO MUCH BETTER. So much better!!! Like myself, Captain Kirk’s reaction to the big reveal is complete and utter shock and frustration. Because WHAT THE FUCK. They don’t have to do this! No one is forcing them to kill their own people. But that’s the horror of the story. They’re so used to this way of war that they can’t even fathom anything else.

Amidst this is a subplot involving Ambassador Fox, the jerk-head who ordered Captain Kirk to fly to this part of space because he’s a jerk-head and he reminded me of the jerk-head in “The Galileo Seven.” And while that plot kind of fizzled out towards the end, I appreciated that we got to see Scotty in command and standing up to Ambassador Fox. It’s a subtle way of showing us how dedicated this crew is both to the Enterprise and to Captain Kirk. I’m a huge sucker for crew camaraderie, and this show is giving it to me in SPADES. I mean, Scotty says he’s willing to face legal charges for refusing to follow Fox’s orders. THAT IS SO BEAUTIFUL TO ME??? He doesn’t even hesitate when he confirms this for Ambassador Fox.

But aside from the premise of “A Taste of Armageddon,” my favorite aspect of this episode was Captain Kirk’s bluff. Well… I suppose I don’t know if he was actually bluffing, but I don’t believe that Kirk would order that an entire planet be torched. That seems just a bit counter to the point of the Federation, you know? I saw his action as a way to make war real for Anan 7. That’s the whole problem, isn’t it? The computer simulation had stripped away the reality of war, so Kirk introduced another variable that Anan 7 couldn’t compute away or minimize. It’s real, the destruction and death would be real, and that’s why war is supposed to be a thing to be avoided. But Eminiaran culture has accepted war instead of trying to stop it, and Kirk destroys the whole system in response. He knows this will disrupt the treaty with Vendikar, but he anticipates that the Vendikarans feel the same way about war as the Eminiarans: they despise it, but have never believed themselves to have the means to stop.

We’re left with another ambiguous ending, but it wasn’t frustrating or disappointing. Ambassador Fox stays behind to lead the negotiations, which clearly weren’t immediately agreed upon. Which is realistic! And even if a real war had broken out, then the people would have died regardless. By forcing these two worlds to confront each other without just a taste of what armageddon could be, they were more likely than ever before to actually come to some sort of lasting peace.

A damn fine episode, y’all.

The video for “A Taste of Armageddon” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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